As the families of graduating seniors and members of the classes of 1960, 1975, and 1985 strolled around Harvard Square, a group of about 30 University employees, students, and sympathetic locals gathered outside the Holyoke Center yesterday evening to protest layoffs and the alleged abuse of temporary workers at Harvard.
Chanting “Hey, Harvard, you should know, temp abuse has got to go,” protestors said that they demanded justice for Harvard’s temporary workers—claiming that the University refused to give them unionized jobs after a period of work, as stipulated by their contracts, to avoid giving them union benefits and wages.
Former Harvard temporary worker Dennis Prater told his tale of abuse through a bullhorn, claiming that he was cycled through three different categories of temporary employment for over a year in the Gordon McKay Library so that the University was not obliged to provide him with a permanent job and union benefits. After a year, he was laid off.
With no severance pay, Prater said that he “learned the many uses for a hot dog because I couldn’t buy more expensive food.”
Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers Representative Geoff Carens called Prater’s story “one of the worst contract violations that I’ve seen at Harvard.” Carens, who helped organize the protest, is part of a leftist core group of about 10 union members known as “Reform HUCTW” that has often advocated for more drastic reforms than the union at large.
Protestors said that they chose to hold the rally yesterday to attract the attention of the families of graduating seniors and alumni attending reunions in Cambridge.
“It’s the day before Commencement, and we want the families of graduating students and the alumni that are here to know that their education at Harvard is in a state of dire emergency,” said HUCTW member and accounting assistant Phebe Eckfeldt, referring to the University’s budget cuts and subsequent layoffs in the wake of the financial crisis. “We as Harvard workers cannot provide adequate and quality services if we are facing speed-ups because of layoffs, if we have to do the jobs of three people instead of one.”
The protest also came in the middle of HUCTW’s eighth round of contract negotiations with the University, which both University and Union leaders have said are particularly difficult this year due to the financial climate.
Still, HUCTW members said they are hoping for a raise in their wages.
“The University is going to try to nickle and dime us,” said Jeffrey Booth, a Harvard College Library assistant who has worked at the University for 23 years. “But we need a raise to keep up with the high cost of living in the area.”
—Staff Writer Sofia E. Groopman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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